Let’s face it, truck parking as it exists now simply doesn’t work. It’s hard for drivers to find a place to safely park and rest. Not only do the large majority (83%) of drivers spend more than half-an-hour looking for parking, as reported by the FHWA, but 37 of the state DOTs agree that truck parking is a problem.
The American Transport Research Institute (ATRI) has shone a light on the prevalence of this problem in a recent survey. Of the hundreds of drivers surveyed, 25% admitted to parking illegally one to two times per week. Even more staggering? A whopping 36% of drivers claimed to park illegally three to four times weekly. If you apply those percentages to the three million truck drivers on the road, truck parking is an undeniable issue in the industry.
The Costs of Illegal Parking: Driver Safety and the Bottom-Line
Drivers who run up against their Hours of Service (HOS) are commonly forced to park illegally and unsafely. Even after searching for a legal spot, some drivers cannot avoid taking the unsafe, but only available, options; whether that involves precariously parking on highway shoulders, resting on off-ramps, or even pulling in to abandoned facilities. These practices are not only highly unsafe, but they impact the bottom-line, adding an estimated 6% (or more) to labor costs. ATRI has estimated that drivers lose a staggering $4600 every year looking for safe and legal spots to park.
What cannot be stressed enough is that drivers are not practicing these unsafe parking behaviors for the sake of convenience, nor does the problem result from a lack of driver planning on the road. The truth is that these drivers spend countless hours looking for legal parking spots — sometimes while fatigued and under the pressure of the clock — only to be forced to make unsafe parking decisions. For all drivers and carriers, the cost of illegal parking has an obvious impact on the bottom-line, and in tragic cases, can even cost drivers and other motorists their lives.
The Tiring Search for Parking
Unfortunately, parking on the shoulder is not the only unsafe practice for drivers trying to compensate for the lack of a proper truck parking system.
For many drivers, the thousands of miles and hours behind the wheel add up and fatigue hits before their HOS are up. And even a few extra minutes spent searching for parking can make all the difference. It only takes a second for a tired driver to nod off while driving, risking their safety and the safety of everyone else on the road. Sadly, the stats speak for themselves: 72,000 accidents, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths are caused by driver fatigue annually.
Drivers should not be forced to choose between driving tired behind the wheel or parking at an unsafe location to rest. Sadly, until parking spots become more readily available and accessible, this is often the dangerous reality for the majority of drivers on the road.
A Tragic Example of the Truck Parking Problem
In March 2009, truck driver Jason Rivenburg parked at an abandoned gas station (the only available parking in the area) to take a much-needed nap. He was shot twice in the head for the $7.00 in change that was in his vehicle. He was only 35 years old and his wife was mere weeks away from delivering twins. Not only was the event tragic, but it was preventable. Had more parking been available, Jason most likely would have driven home safe to his family and survived to see his babies’ birth.
The Next Step: Repairing a Broken System
As a result of this tragic event, Jason’s law was passed in 2012 to provide more than $6 million in federal funding to support the creation of safe rest areas for truck drivers. This funding is a welcome first step; however, the system still needs to implement more innovative solutions and services to completely eradicate the truck parking problem. Although safe and legal parking is available across the country, too many states lack a reliable system to make drivers aware of available parking, putting their lives in danger and making our highways more unsafe. We still need a fix.
States can now take advantage of this federal funding to make our highways safer, and drivers more productive by supporting agencies that are willing to adopt innovative solutions. These possible solutions include smart truck parking technologies which provide real-time information to drivers. Our next step is to ensure that these technologies are adopted nation-wide, so that drivers can sleep easier – and make it home safe to their families.